Perhaps you're distressed over constantly rising food prices, or you have a gourmet streak and are interested in trying new and different foods and beverages. If so, why not explore the field of wild edibles? This is the prime time of the year to collect plants useful as teas, seasonings and pot herbs. Close to 100 species can be found in this area during May.
You needn't throw up your hands and exclaim,"I can't tell dandelion from poison ivy." There are numerous good books on edible wild plants, all with good illustrations and descriptive information. If you're not adventuresome enough to use only a book for a guide you can take a short course at any of seven area educational institutions. These courses are given by experienced foragers, and each includes one to four field trips during which you identify and collect to your heart's content.
You can also gain know-how in less formal programs, mainly edible plant walks, offered by area nature centers and by the Audubon Naturalist Society. Contact these agencies for schedules of walks: Rock Creek Park (D.C.) 426-6829; Md.-Nat. Cap. Park and Planning Comm. Montgomery County parks, 589-1480; Prince Georges County parks, 277-2200; Audubon Naturalist Society, 652-9188; N. Va. Regional Park Authority, 278-8880; National Colonial Farm, 283-2113; Great Falls Park, Md. 299-3613; Great Falls Park, Va. 759-2925.
Foraging on your own, book in hand, is not a hazardous undertaking. You'll encounter very few poisonous plants. Also remember that foraging is prohibited in all park areas.Stick to roadsides, abandoned farms, or visit working farms where they will gladly give permission to collect unwanted weeds. Neglected land, awaiting development, is one of my favorite areas. Just look for the "For Sale" sign and contact the seller or owner.
There are a few common, poisonous plants, such as dogbane and poison hemlock. Both are bitter, and the latter also is malodorous. Try to familiarize yourself with these and other dangerous plants - there are only a handful in the area you are likely to mistake for an edible one. Several of the books on edible plants have a chapter on this subject. Leave a plant alone if you are not sure of its identity.
Many plants become unpalatable, even poisonous, as they attain maturity. Pokeweed is one, milkweed, another. Gather your plants only in the proper season for harvesting. Courses in Edible Wild Plants
Montgomery College, Rockville, Md. Summer, 1977. Fee, $20.732-1841
Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale, Va. Summer, 1977. Fee $19 323-3168
Smithsonian Institution Resident Associate Program, Washington, D.C. Summer, 1977. Fess $30-$40. 381-6722-4.
University of Maryland, College Park, Md. late spring 1977. Fees. $45 454-4712
University of Northern Virginia."Wilderness Survival Skills" Fall, 1977. Fee, $30. Course given in Fairfax County. 532-5800, Ext. 45
U.S. Department of Agriculture Graduate School, Washington, D.C. Fall, 1977 Fee, $38 477-4419. (Also offers course in wild herbs)
"What's Cooking" Cookery School, Rockville, Md. mid-May, 1977. Fee, $35. 881-2430. Selected List of Books
Medsger, O.P. Edible Wild Plants 323 pp., $3.95
Saunders, C.F. Edible and Useful Wild Plants 275 pp., $3.
Fernald, M.L. et al Edible Wild Plants 452 pp., $6.95
Gibbons, E. Stalking the Wild Asparagus 304 pp., $3.95
Angier, B. Field Guide-Wild Edible Plants 254 pp., $4.95
Harris, B.C. Eat the Weeds 224 pp., $3.95
Peterson & McKenny Field Guide to Wildflowers 420 pp., $6.95